Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates!
Somehow, the adults are up earliest in our house today, waiting for the pitter-pat of little feet to begin. I am nursing a wicked case of strep, but 24 hours after starting antibiotics, I have been assured that I’m not contagious (or at least not very contagious) and am okay to attend Christmas dinner. I may not be able to eat it–since I’m still on a smooth diet of yogurt, broth and applesauce–but I can at least smell it.
I’m thankful on holidays to have married into a big family that gets together to celebrate with food, conversation and fellowship. My mother-in-law did a great job teaching all her kids to cook well, which makes potluck occasions all the more special.
On many of those same holidays, I’m equally grateful to be an only child. Family Christmas growing up meant me, my parents and usually a set of grandparents. Sometimes we traveled to Florida to see the grandparents. Other times we stayed home. I didn’t fight with anyone, and I could play imaginative games with my new toys. I’m pretty sure I’m a writer because of all the solitary hours I had as a kid. I learned to fill them with stories and practicing with language, and I still cherish alone time, whether it’s a stolen hour before the family wakes up, or a trip to a local coffee shop, where I can be alone with my laptop amid clusters of caffeinated strangers.
I am thinking of Florida now, the smell of the pavement after the rain, and how one year I spent my whole winter break trying to describe that smell in a poem. One set of grandparents had a coconut tree, which I loved, and a kumquat tree, which I didn’t. The other had an enormous pink grapefruit tree. They both had fresh oranges. I remember those warm, sunny Christmases, at one house or the other, excited about the beach and looking for shells, excited to open presents, less excited about family dinner, where I was expected to be quiet and proper, a young lady, and I wish I could take my whole family back in time to show them what those holidays were like.
Christmases now are simpler, with my husband’s family, lots of kids and sisters-in-law, no traveling necessary, no fancy dresses required, and soon all those cousins will grow up more than they have grown up already and have lives and traditions and families of their own. These years will be the ones they remember when they are grown, waking up Christmas morning and waiting for their own children to jump out of bed and beg to go see whether Santa came. These years, someday, will be what they miss, and remember, and occasionally misremember, and the cousins will have each other for proof. It was like this at Grandma’s. And this. And this. My proof is a photo of me sitting by myself with a My Little Pony on my grandma’s orangey-yellow shag rug, cut out carefully in a circle, pasted onto a painted wood circle and now hanging on my parents’ Christmas tree.
I am not looking at the camera; I am looking at my new toy. I still remember painting that wood circle. Magenta. I remember what it felt like to turn it over, still sticky, and see that some of the paint had dripped onto the back. I remember worrying I had ruined it. And yet here it is, the metal hanger still set into the wood, the paint drips and my code name “Little Arrow” printed in adult handwriting on the back, the memory of all those warm-weather Christmases brought back by this one small ornament.